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2012 Draft Class: Morgan Rielly

by Ryan Dittrick / Edmonton Oilers
Edmonton, AB - You probably haven't heard much about him. And it's not surprising, considering the 18-year-old's tumultuous 2011-12 campaign.

Morgan Rielly began the year as well as anyone could hope, potting three goals and setting a point-per-game pace through 18 games. Then, on Nov. 6 in Moose Jaw, his sophomore season came to an end.

"We were up against Calgary (Hitmen) that night," Rielly recalled. "It all happened so quick, it was like a blur. I got hit, went down awkwardly and banged my knee as I collided with the post.

"I was going to be out (of the lineup) for a bit regardless, but I didn't really appreciate the severity of it or how long it was going to keep me out. It kept getting a little worse over time, so a couple weeks later, I had some scans done and it was determined that I had a torn ACL."

While Rielly's regular season was over, a return was possible if the Warriors put together a long post-season run. Now in the WHL's Eastern Conference Final vs. Edmonton, he's back in action and ready to help his team surge past the league's regular-season champions.

165 days and 165 sleepless nights sat in between.

"It's taken me a long time to get back to where I needed to be and to get back in shape," Rielly said, noting conditioning as his most challenging obstacle. "When it's your knee, you can't work out like you normally would, so it's been a long road since my operation.

"Still, I'm extremely happy with how it's gone and am grateful that I've been given a chance to help my team again."

Rielly made his return on Apr. 20, a 6-1 loss to open the series against the Oil Kings. While the result wasn't what he or the Warriors wanted, he certainly didn't look out of place in reestablishing a much-needed presence on his club's backend.

"I'm a two-way defenceman," he said, matter-of-factly. "I like to carry the puck a little bit, but that doesn't mean I give anything up in my own end. I play to win and do whatever it takes to help my team, in whatever way I can."

Interestingly noted when peeking at the 6'0", 190-pound rearguard's stats is the small amount of penalty minutes accrued over his 83-game career -- 23, with only a single minor penalty assessed in his injury-shortened 2011-12 season.

Perhaps a concern, heeding a limited physical edge or unwillingness to go the extra mile physically, Rielly isn't buying it. In his eyes and others', it's simply a byproduct of staying responsible and utilizing an elite skill-set to maintain such discipline without giving anything up.

"I don't use my stick a whole lot when I'm working one-on-one with my opponent, so I don't get charged with hooking and other obstruction-related penalties," he said. "I like to think I'm pretty quick, too, so I don't have to take them. It's all about staying on the right side of the puck and making sure I'm not putting myself in a position where I'm chasing.

"If there's a ever an instance where a teammate gets hit or something, I'm certainly not going to let up either. But I don't take those useless or lazy penalties."

Controlling the pace with slick, sure-handed breakouts and calculated hops on the rush, Rielly's description was accurate. Just as quickly as he'd dart up-ice, he'd be back in a well-positioned defensive posture to limit the high-powered Oil Kings attack.

It's that driven, highly-motivated skill-set that helped Rielly remain high on Central Scouting's midterm and year-end rankings. In both and despite an abbreviated campaign, he nailed down the No. 5 spot among North American skaters.

Nail Yakupov (1), Ryan Murray (2), Mikhail Grigorenko (3) and Alex Galchenyuk (4) are the others ranked higher.

While Rielly's experience (and scouts' viewing opportunities) is limited, a heralded resume has helped his cause. Prior to making his WHL debut, he led the Notre Dame Hounds to a Saskatchewan AAA midget championship, followed by the national title, the TELUS Cup, later in the spring of 2010.

Last summer, he represented Team Canada at the 2011 Ivan Hlinka Tournament (U18) in the Czech Republic. Canada scarred Sweden by a 4-1 score, winning gold for a fourth straight year.

"Getting the opportunity to play for Team Canada was an unbelievable experience," Rielly said, smiling with blinding ear-to-ear grin. "It was -- I can't even explain it. It was a huge honour and I think it teaches all the players a lot about how to come together as a unit. Having the opportunity to play for your country in any tournament on any stage is an unbelievable honour. I really appreciated the chance and had a great time.

"In many ways, I'm sure those opportunities helped me get to where I am today on CSS' rankings," he added. "But I try not to put too much stock or concentration into it. Obviously when I'm at home, it's nice to see and it certainly gives me an extra boost, but right now it's all about the team.

"Our team's post-season run is my priority right now."

With the Oil Kings leading the best of seven series by a 2-0 count, it needs the Warriors' undivided attention.

"I'm happy with the group we have," Rielly explained. "I'm sure we've got the team to have a deep playoff run. We're already doing it, but we need to keep doing our thing, playing our game. We're not too concerned about it (the series deficit), but we have to bounce back and play hard to get ourselves back in it.

"No matter what, it's pretty exciting to be a part of."

His name might not have had the sex appeal of others in the prospects world of late, but it should. Morgan Rielly is a special player. Take note.

-- Ryan Dittrick, -

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